Monday, January 31, 2011


On the heels of the Directors Guild awards comes the Screen Actors Guild awards.  Once again, rather obvious and disappointing.  The winners, as most predicted, were Colin Firth in The King's Speech, Natalie Portman in Black Swan, and Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in The Fighter.  They now must be considered frontrunners for the Oscars.

If I were in the Academy (and I'm sure they're glad I'm not) the only one of this quartet I'd consider voting for is Firth.  For Best Actress I'd choose Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams over Portman (though the only other nominee who has a chance is Annette Bening).

For Best Supporting Actor, I'd pick all four other choices above Bale.  For Best Supporting Actress, I'd choose Helena Bonham Carter, Hailee Steinfeld and Jacki Weaver before I'd pick Leo.  (The other nominee is Amy Adams, also from The Fighter, who has no chance now.)

TV was no better.  SAG chose Boardwalk Empire and Modern Family for best ensembles.  The former isn't much of a show, and the latter overpraised.  I can see Alec Baldwin for best comic actor, even though there are plenty of other good choices, but Betty White for for comic actress?  Hey, I love her too, but come on.

Banjo Eyes

Happy birthday, Eddie Cantor. Perhaps not so well remembered today, but he was a huge Broadway star in the 1920 who was brought out to Hollywood by Sam Goldwyn where he became one of the biggest stars of the early sound era.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The King's Acceptance Speech

The Director's Guild Awards have been announced.  Winner for feature film was Tom Hooper of The King's Speech.  Following the Producer's Guild Award and the most nominations for the Oscar, I think this makes the movie the clear frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar.  Surprising, actually, considering that The Social Network won almost every critics' award and for weeks was considered the lead.

Other than that, (or along with that), the other awards were distressingly conventional: Charles Ferguson for Inside Job, Martin Scorsese for Boardwalk Empire, Michael Spiller for Modern Family, Glenn Weiss for the Tony Awards and so on.  If the Oscars follow suit, it's going to be a pretty dull night.

Miracles Do Happen

Hey, Marty Balin turns 69 today. Lead singer for the Jefferson Airplane/Starship, he was an interesting contrast to Grace Slick.

The Airplane was a legendary 60s psychedelic band, but when they changed their name to Starship and became less groundbreaking, they also sold more. I believe their #1, Red Octopus, has the honor of being the only abum to hit the top of the charts on four separate weeks. Its big hit was "Miracles," where Balin's sweet voice is an interesting contrast to the filthy words.

Nobody Doesn't Like Mitch Leigh

Happy birthday, Mitch Leigh, composer of the smash Man Of La Mancha. It was his first Broadway show.  Everything after flopped, but that show alone--and its big hit "The Impossible Dream"--must have made him enough dough to retire.

In addition, he was a top writer of jingles.  I believe he's responsible for these ditties:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I'm Still With Star Wars

Cultural phenomena aren't like sports.  If you support a team, you pretty much have to hate their main rivals or I'm not sure if you're a proper fan. But I've never believed if you like, say, Elvis, you can't like The Beatles.  Or if you love The Beatles, you have to have a problem with the Stone.  The competition can exist while you respect both.

Still, I enjoy fights between fanboys, since the intensity is so high while the stakes are so low.

College Town

I was recently in Westwood, home of UCLA.  I saw a restaurant named Damon & Pythias.  But it had a subtitle: "food for the gods."  Shouldn't that be "food for friends who are waiting to be killed by the gods"?

I also picked up my free copy of the school paper, the Dailiy Bruin.  I wish I could scan the following, but you'll have to take my word for it.  On the front page was a piece entitled "Crazy In A Can," an expose of Four Loko. Fair enough, but like Damon and Pythias, it was the part after which caught my attention.  It read "Look at this subhead; it's here to give you more info about the story!"

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pretty In Pink

In yet another piece on princess mania, Jessica Bennett, reviewing Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter in Newsweek, notes:

[According to Orenstein] there is one very big thing that separates [her daughter's] generation from those who came before her—and it’s called mass marketing. Disney alone has 26,000 Disney princess items on the market today, part of a $4 billion-a-year franchise that is the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created. “What these companies will tell you is that girls want this, so they give it to them,” says Orenstein. But for girls who don’t want to play with pink princess toys, there’s virtually no other option

I don't have any strong opinions on the subject, but is mass marketing really making all the difference?  Princesses have been big for a long time, and while Disney may be pushing it, it's hard not to believe, as they say, that the audience isn't already somewhat willing.  It's not as if they haven't tried to push other items in the past.  If marketing makes so much difference, why doesn't Tonka spend some promotional money and double the toy truck market.

And really, "virtually no other option"?  I've bought presents for my niece, and while there's plenty of the pink and frilly out there, there's more stuff available in general than ever before.

Sing It Again, Sam

Back in the 90s I saw a movie called Ruby In Paradise.  There was a great song on the soundtrack, "Holding On The The Earth."  I checked the credits and discovered it was by a singer named Sam Phillips.  I got her album and have been a fan ever since.

It's her birthday today.  I couldn't find a good version on YouTube of the song above, so here's another song, probably even better:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Song Was Him

Happy birthday, Jerome Kern, the master of pure, shimmering melody.

Born In The USA

It's nutty to believe Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.  For that matter, it's nutty to believe, after he's been elected, that there's anything anyone can do about it.  But this I find interesting.  Arizona, and other states, are considering a law that will require candidates for President to prove they are "natural born citizens," as the Constitution requires.  This raises some questions for which I have no answers.

First, are states allowed to require candidates prove their Constitutional standing, or is it up to a federal authority to decide?  (While we're at it, could a state also ask all candidates to prove they're at least 35 years old, and been a resident for 14 years in the U.S.?) Can they pass such a law if they show no one at the federal level is requiring any proof?

Second, just what is a natural born citizen?  Has this ever actually be adjudicated?  (I could look it up, but I'm too lazy.)

Third, how do you prove you're a natural born citizen?  General records?  Testimony?  Will only a birth certificate do?  Can the state law decide the level of proof?  Let's say they require a birth certificate--if the candidate can't produce one (for whatever reason), would that, then, make him ineligible? Would he only be ineligible in that particular state, or would this chance his status elsewhere?

Finally, what if a state isn't satisfied with a candidate's evidence.  Can it then remove him from the ballot?  What if people write him in anyway?  What if people vote for a candidate that doesn't fulfill all the requirements?  Are those votes counted, or thrown away?

PS  I don't think this movement will come to much, but it won't be the first time someone tried to take down a competitor through ineligibility.  In fact, that's how Obama got his start.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Following up on a recent "post," a "friend" sent me the URL of a "blog" that specializes in "unnecessary" quotation marks.

End Of The Line

Jesse Walker has chosen his top film from 1910 and 1920.

1910's is The Automatic Moving Company.  Haven't seen it.

1920's is Robert Wiene's The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.  This is one of those "classics" I don't think much of.  I'm sure it was very refreshing back then, but the expressionism hasn't worn well (and I'm still bothered by the ending where the fantasy is over but the sets remain the same).

Hollywood had taken over the flim world by this point, and I wonder if this is the start of "art" films coming from elsewhere.  (Of course, before too long most of the greatest talents in Germany would migrate to America.)  Even if so, Hollywood was turning out great stuff by 1920.  You've got John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.  Mary Pickford has a defining role in Pollyanna.  D. W. Griffith made Way Down East with Lillian Gish.  Fatty Arbuckle did something different in The Round-Up.  Rudolph Valentino was almost a star with Stolen Moments.  Best of all, Douglas Fairbanks made a fine comedy, The Mollycoddle, followed by the film that turned his career around and may be his best, The Mark Of Zorro.

As far as the great clowns, I'm sure Jesse is glad to hear Chaplin sat out 1920 (or actually was shooting The Kid and having serious personal and legal problems).  Meanwhile, Harold Lloyd came back from blowing up his hand and turned out one classic short after another, including An Eastern Westerner and High And Dizzy.  Buster Keaton was even more amazing.  Let's ignore his first feature (he rented himself out for The Saphead, which is more in the Fairbanks vein) and his last great short with Arbuckle, The Garage. This is the year he got his own studio and started an amazing run.  Before 1920 was out, he'd release One Week, Convict 13, Neighbors and The Scarecrow.  (He also made The High Sign but saved it for later.)

So that's Hollywood.  But Caligari isn't even my favorite German film from 1920.  I like Der Golem better.  I also prefer Lubitsch's Sumurun and Anna Boleyn.

Up The Academy

The Oscar nominations are out.  A few snubs, but nothing shocking.  The King's Speech has 12 nominations to The Social Network's 8, so we've got a race. (True Grit has 10.)

Best actor favorite has to be Colin Firth.  His only real competition seems to be James Franco, but I'm guessing a lot of Academy members didn't even want to watch him cut his arm off.  Jeff Bridges already won the award last year for a role with a beard.  I think people believe Jesse Eisenberg was playing himself.  Javier Bardem was the surprise nominee, even though he's an Academy favorite--he blocked someone like Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Gosling or Robert Duvall (but not Leo DiCaprio).

Best Actress looks to be a battle between favorite Natalie Portman and Annette Bening.  Julianne Moore was not nominated, which was no surprise and probably helps Bening.  The other nominations weren't entirely unexpected, but none were locks.  No Lesley Manville, who won critics awards around the world for Another Year, was one of the biggest snubs.

Best Supporting Actor is one of the best categories, as it often is.  The least interesting performance, Christian Bale's, seems like to win, though Geoffrey Rush might give him a run for his money.  Note the total lack of Social Network names.  So Network gets Best Actor and nothing else, while The Fighter gets supporting nods but nothing at the top.

Best Supporting Actress features two not that impressive performances from The Fighter, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.  I don't think they'll cancel each other out since, even though Adams is an Academy favorite, Leo had the showier role.  Meanwhile, the other three nominees did wonderful work (and are arguably all lead roles).  Some people were w bit surprised that Mila Kunis isn't here, but not me.

The worst snub to me is no Tangled for best animated feature.  Toy Story 3 seems a lock, but no room for the girl with the hair?  Actually, most snub-sniffers are more surprised at The Illusionist or Despicable Me.

Best director, no Danny Boyle, no Chrisopher Nolan, no Ben Affleck.  This category might be fun, since Fincher did such a critically acclaimed film in a relatively self-effacing manner, as did Tom Hooper and, for that matter, David O. Russell.  Meanwhile, Darren Aronofsky was up to his old tricks reminding you over and over what you're watching isn't true.

Best Screenplay splits the two favorites so should be an easy win for Aaron Sorkin and David Seidler.

Haven't seen most of the foreign language films, but Dogtooth sure would be an interesting winner.

Good to see Exit Through The Gift Shop get nominated for best doc.  Would Banksy show up if he wins?  Unfortunately, the simplistic Inside Job is nominated.  The last thing we need is a childish harangue.  Big snub here was Waiting For Superman.  Did the teacher's union get to the Academy?

Pretty weak gang for Original Song.  Only the Tangled number seems worth much.  Please oh please don't let Randy Newman win an Oscar for another crappy song.

I don't know about the other animated shorts, but I think everyone saw Day & Night and it was pretty good.








THE FIGHTER, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy  Eric Johnson
INCEPTION, Christopher Nolan
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
THE KING'S SPEECH, David Seidler

127 HOURS, Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
TOY STORY 3, Michael Arndt, Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich
WINTER'S BONE, Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
TRUE GRIT, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Algeria, Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)
Canada, Incendies
Denmark, In a Better World
Greece, Dogtooth
Mexico, Biutiful

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) - Matthew Libatique
Inception (Warner Bros.) - Wally Pfister
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) - Danny Cohen
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) - Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit (Paramount) - Roger Deakins

Exit Through The Gift Shop (Producers Distribution Agency) A Paranoid Pictures Production Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
Gasland - A Gasland Production Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics) - A Representational Pictures Production Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Restrepo (National Geographic Entertainment) - An Outpost Films Production Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waste Land (Arthouse Films) - An Almega Projects Production Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Killing In The Name - A Moxie Firecracker Films Production Nominees to be determined
Poster Girl - A Portrayal Films Production Nominees to be determined
Strangers No More - A Simon & Goodman Picture Company Production Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Sun Come Up - A Sun Come Up Production Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
The Warriors Of Qiugang - A Thomas Lennon Films Production Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter (Paramount) Pamela Martin
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) Tariq Anwar
127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) Jon Harris
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) - Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Warner Bros.) - Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter (Warner Bros) - Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
Inception (Warner Bros) - Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
Iron Man 2 (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment, Distributed by Paramount) - Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) - Production Design: Robert Stromberg, Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 (Warner Bros.) - Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
Inception (Warner Bros) - Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas, Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) - Production Design: Eve Stewart, Set Decoration: Judy Farr
True Grit (Paramount) - Production Design: Jess Gonchor, Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) - Colleen Atwood
I Am Love (Magnolia Pictures) - Antonella Cannarozzi
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) - Jenny Beavan
The Tempest (Miramax) - Sandy Powell
True Grit (Paramount) - Mary Zophres

Barney's Version (Sony Pictures Classics) Adrien Morot
The Way Back (Newmarket Films/Wrekin Hill Entertainment/Image Entertainment) Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
The Wolfman (Universal) Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount) - John Powell
Inception (Warner Bros.) - Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) - Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) - A.R. Rahman
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

“Coming Home” from Country Strong (Sony Pictures/Screen Gems) - Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from Tangled (Walt Disney) - Music by Alan Menken, Lyric by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) - Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney) - Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Day & Night (Walt Disney) - A Pixar Animation Studios Production Teddy Newton
The Gruffalo - A Magic Light Pictures Production Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
Let's Pollute - A Geefwee Boedoe Production Geefwee Boedoe
The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias for Madman Entertainment) - A Passion Pictures Australia Production Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) - A Sacrebleu Production Bastien Dubois

The Confession (National Film and Television School) - A National Film and Television School Production - Tanel Toom
The Crush (Network Ireland Television) - A Purdy Pictures Production - Michael Creagh
God Of Love - A Luke Matheny Production - Luke Matheny
Na Wewe (Premium Films) - A CUT! Production Ivan Goldschmidt
Wish 143 - A Swing and Shift Films/Union Pictures Production Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Inception (Warner Bros) - Richard King
Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney) - Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
Tron: Legacy (Walt Disney) - Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
True Grit (Paramount) - Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
Unstoppable (20th Century Fox) - Mark P. Stoeckinger

Inception (Warner Bros) - Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company) - Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
Salt (Sony Pictures Releasing) - Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) - Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
True Grit (Paramount) - Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Can't Wait A Few Minutes

In December it was rainy and cold.  In Los Angeles, that's a relief.  It's almost fun.  Since then, it's generally been warm and sunny every day.

It makes me wonder how the weather's been for the rest of the Guys.

The Fix Is In

Chris Cillizza's latest in The Washington Post--where he reveals the startling math that if Obama wins less states in 2012 than 2008 he could still remain President--begins thus:

When then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) won the White House in 2008, it was widely regarded as a landslide victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"Widely regarded"?  Where?  At cocktail parties he attends? Obama won the popular vote by 7.2 % with an electoral college victory of 365 - 173. Even in these times I don't think landslides are selling so cheap.

I wrote on the landslide threshold a couple years back.  Let me reproduce that post in full:

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Landslide Brought Me Down

I hear some in the Obama camp are expecting a "landslide." I suppose this all depends on what you think a landslide is.

With recent elections so close, it may seem like Bill Clinton enjoyed a landslide against Bob "Bob Dole" Dole in 1996. He won by less than 9 percentage points and took the Electoral College 379-159. Pretty paltry landslide, seems to me.

Now 1984 (18%+, 525-13), 1972 (23+, 520-17), 1964 (22%+, 486-52)--those were landslides.

My threshhold for a landslide is 1980 (9.7%, 489-49). For the next few years there were heated editorials from the left claiming Reagan did not win by a landslide. I think you gotta get at least those kind of numbers to make the claim.

Not Depressing

In 1930, sound was just coming in, though some filmmakers still made silents.  A time of transition, but it turned out to be a pretty cool year for movies anyway. Jesse Walker lists his favorites.  The top ten:

1. Earth
2. People on Sunday
3. Swing You Sinners!
4. Le Roman de Renard
5. Animal Crackers
6. L'Age d'Or
7. Under the Roofs of Paris
8. A Propos de Nice
9. Salt for Svanetia
10. Monte Carlo

An excellent top ten.  I haven't seen #4 and #9, but all the others would make my list.  I think #5 and #6 would fight for the top spot.

Here are his honorable mentions:

11. The Blue Angel
12. Blood of a Poet
13. Borderline
14. Romance Sentimentale
15. Crabes et Crevettes
16. Mechanical Principles
17. The Big House
18. All Quiet on the Western Front
19. It's a Bird
20. Night Owls

I haven't seen them all, but I like those I have.  The only one I feel a bit creaky is #18.

As for Night Owls, Laurel and Hardy (the only major silent comedians better in sound) made a bunch of fine messes in 1930.  It'd be hard to pick their top short of the year (especially since I haven't seen them in a while), but if I had to go for one, it'd probably be Hog Wild.

There are some other films from 1930 that I liked but didn't make Jesse's top 20.

First, where's the love for Walt Disney?  He was putting out a new cartoon every couple of weeks, many of them innovative and delightful.

I'm also a little surprised at no Morocco, which may not be as great as its reputation, but is still something.  (Sort of like The Blue Angel.)

Then there's The Dawn Patrol.  A little stiff, but it's worth it to have Howard Hawks teach us that dying in a plane crash isn't too bad as long as you don't whine about it.

Feet First is the film where Harold Lloyd figured out he hadn't figured out sound.  Still, some nice bits.  Then there's Buster Keaton.  Sure, Free And Easy and Doughboys are a huge drop from his silent work, and he'd lost a lot of control, but there are moments when he recaptures a bit of the magic.

By the way, have you ever seen Madam Satan?  I think it flopped in its day, but is fascinating to watch.

Other films of note (some of which I sort of like but need to see again):

Abraham Lincoln, Anna Christie (Garbo Talks), Below Zero, The Big Trail (the film that almost stopped John Wayne's career in its tracks), Charley's Aunt, The Divorcee, Dreyfus, The Florodora Girl, Good News, Goodbye Argentina, Hell's Angels, Hit the Deck, Holiday, Juno and the Paycock, Just Imagine (El Brendel has to be seen to be believed), King of Jazz, Kismet, Ladies of Leisure, Laughter, The Limejuice Mystery or Who Spat in Grandfather's Porridge?, Manslaughter, Men Without Women, Min and Bill, Murder!, No, No, Nanette, Not So Dumb, Oh Sailor Behave, Paramount on Parade, Puttin' on the Ritz, Raffles, Rain or Shine (we can see Frank Capra is a talented director and Joe Cook is not gonna make it as a top screen comedian), The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu, The Royal Family of Broadway, The Runaway Bride, School for Scandal, Sinkin' in the Bathtub, Soup to Nuts (Three Stooges so early it's Shemp before Curly), Sunny, Teacher's Pet, Tol'able David, Tom Sawyer, Too Many Crooks, The Unholy Three, Up The River, The Vagabond King, Whoopee! (if nothing else, we get a reasonably good approximation of what an Eddie Cantor Broadway hit looks like)

One final question.  Will there be a 1920 list?  The silent era can be difficult, with so many films lost, and others rarely shown.  But 1920 had D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and even Ernst Lubitsch working at the top of their game.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quote Unquote

I saw a handmade sign at the magazine rack of my local 7-Eleven.  Let me reproduce it for you exactly:

Do Not read the Magazine's "Please" they are for "Sale"

Let's ignore the floating capitalization, the lack of periods or exclamation points, the apostrophe meant to signify a plural and get down to the main business--the use of quotation marks.

I was taken aback.  Was the sign writer simply quoting a couple words her boss said to her in a longer harangue?  Was she being sly, implying they really didn't believe in being courteous, and, anyway, you could always steal the magazines and read them outside?

I get the feeling the anonymous author uses quotation marks for emphasis.  I suppose italics weren't possible, but she really should learn about underlining.

Better Than Joey

I've watched the first few episodes of Episodes.  It's a new half-hour show from Showtime.  The premise is a British husband-and-wife writing team are convinced by a bombastic Hollywood network exec to adapt their hit sitcom for American television.  We see them making compromise after compromise, the first being Matt LeBlanc forced on them as the ill-suited lead.

The British couple are Stephen Mangin and Tamsin Greig, who have a nice back-and-forth rhythm, even if we feel we've seen this before.  In fact, if the show has a problem, it's the satire feels so familiar--the sex-crazed mogul, the cringing assistants, the general philistine aura of Hollywood.  But it's sprightly enough, and the twist of LeBlanc playing a version of himself works pretty well.  It's a seven-part series and I figure I can stick around at least that long.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Importance Of Being Ernie

It's Ernie Kovacs' birthday. He died in a car accident in 1962, only 42 years old. Probably the greatest innovator in the early days of TV, it's hard to know where his career would have gone if he'd lived. I'd like to see what he'd have done with color, but for all I know, he'd have been forced out of TV and earned his keep as a supporting actor in movies he didn't write.

He did conventional comedy, but he's best remembered, as he should, for what I'd call his genial surrealism.

Before The Plunge

1940 was a great year for Hollywood.  A lot of its best people were working at the top of their game.  Europe--not so great.  They had other things on their mind.

Jesse Walker lists a lot of these great films in his top ten list for the year, but not always in the right order.  Here's his top ten.

1. The Philadelphia Story
2. His Girl Friday
3. The Bank Dick
4. A Wild Hare
5. They Drive By Night
6. Rebecca
7. Christmas in July
8. The Grapes of Wrath
9. Dance, Girl, Dance
10. Contraband

His honorable mentions:

11. Foreign Correspondent
12. The Shop Around the Corner
13. The Thief of Bagdad
14. Pinocchio
15. Seven Sinners
16. The Great McGinty
17. Swinging the Lambeth Walk
18. The Westerner
19. Tarantella
20. The Ghost Breakers

The Philadelphia Story (better than the play) and His Girl Friday are certainly among the top comedies of all. 

The Bank Dick I love too, and it's great that W. C. Fields this late in his career was allowed to do whatever came into his head (even if W. C. Fields doesn't mean as much to me as The Marx Brothers (who were busy in 1940 making the weak Go West)). 

The Wild Hare I love, but there were enough great films then that I still don't see why Jesse picks shorts.

They Drive By Night is a lot of fun, even if it wouldn't make my top ten.

Rebecca won the Best Picture Oscar.  It's alright, but too long and hardly top-notch Hitchcock.

Christmas In July is one of Preston Sturges's slighter works, but it's certainly worth some spot in the top twenty.  I think I prefer Sturges's first film, The Great McGinty, which shows up at #16.

The Grapes Of Wrath may have some iconic moments, but for such a recognized classic, a lot of it is dull and overdone.  (Though I agree it's better than most "serious" Ford.)

Dance, Girl, Dance seems rated high.  I wouldn't put it in the top twenty.

Contraband, like Michael Powell's more celebrated Thief Of Bagdad (at #13) is a solid film, worthy of attention, but probably not top ten material.

Foreign Correspondent was Hitchcock's better film that year.

At #12 we see The Shop Around The Corner.  Surely Jesse made a mistake, and meant to put this as the #1 film of 1940, the #1 film of any year ending in zero, and perhaps the #1 film ever made in Hollywood.

Pinocchio isn't just top ten material, it's the starting point of any discussion of the greatest animated features of all time.

Seven Sinners doesn't strike me as anything special but I haven't seen it in a long time.

The Westerner and Ghost Breakers are pretty neat films that deserve a spot in the top twenty. (And I do agree with Jesee that Andy Hardy Meets Debutante is one of the best titles in the series.)

One absence I expected was The Great Dictator, since I know Jesse doesn't like Chaplin.  This was Chaplin's first full-on talkie, and his biggest hit.  It often makes great films lists.  But I agree it doesn't deserve the recognition.  His silents are great, his sound films never recaptured that magic.

Here are other films from 1940 I like, to one extent or another:

Broadway Melody of 1940 and Second Chorus.  It's 1940, and Fred Astaire is no longer with Ginger.  How will he deal with it?  The first has some of Fred Astaire's most brilliant numbers, even if Eleanor Powell, who may be the greatest dancer, technically speaking, he ever worked with, has no chemistry with him.  Second Chorus is far from Astaire's best, but it's still worth catching.

Saps At Sea and A Chump At Oxford are the last fine work Laurel and Hardy did.  Their best stuff was still shorts, but that doesn't mean these aren't fun.

My Favorite Wife.  Cary Grant did far better work this year (and worse work) but even a comedy like this that doesn't quite play is worth something.

I admit that Fantasia is pretentious, and not half the film Pinocchio is, but there's still some amazing technical work here, and some great sequences.

1940 also had some top-notch adventure, such as The Mark Of Zorro and The Sea Hawk.

Then there's Buck Benny Rides Again, Johnny Apollo,  No Time for Comedy (some think Jimmy Stewart miscast, and the film is a little heavy, but I like it), Northwest Passage, Primrose Path, The Return of Frank James, Road to Singapore (the Roads would get better, but you gotta start somewhere), Strike Up the Band, Remember the Night (Sturges being partly serious here, and it works), Tin Pan Alley, Gaslight (the first one), My Little Chickadee (not the pairing that was hoped for, but it has moments), Down Argentine Way

Other films of note:

Abe Lincoln in Illinois, All This, and Heaven Too, Angels Over Broadway, Bitter Sweet, The Blue Bird, Boom Town, The Boys from Syracuse, Brigham Young, Chad Hanna, Dr. Cyclops, The Eternal Jew, The Fighting 69th, The Howards of Virginia, It's a Date, Kitty Foyle, Knute Rockne, All American,  The Letter, Li'l Abner, Little Men, Little Nellie Kelly, The Long Voyage Home, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, The Miracle of Sound, The Mortal Storm, Night Train to Munich, One Million B.C., Our Town, Quicker'n a Wink, Pride and Prejudice, Star Dust, Strange Cargo, Swiss Family Robinson, They Knew What They Wanted, Too Many Husbands, Turnabout, Vigil in the Night, Young Tom Edison

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oh Boy

Strange music chosen for Honda Accord V6 ads.  Even among fans of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, it's not like you hear a lot of demand for "The Only Livng Boy In New York."

Go West, Old Man

With the True Grit remake such a hit, thought I'd check out the original to see how big it was.  I knew it was very successful in its day, and won John Wayne an Oscar after a long career (for what some fans saw as a parody of older roles).

According to Wikipedia (which is not entirely reliable--old movie grosses can be tricky), it made $14.25 million, which was a solid hit back then, making it the 9th top grosser of the year. It may not sound so impressive today, but note that the Coen's True Grit did not make the top ten.

It occurred to me that looking at 1969's top ten, you might think it was a big year for Westerns. 

1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 
2. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service 
4. Midnight Cowboy 
5. Easy Rider 
6. Hello, Dolly!
7. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
8. Cactus Flower 
9. True Grit 
10. The Wild Bunch

#1 and #10 are Westerns, but modern Westerns--you could almost call them anti-Westerns.  If you didn't know any better, you might figure #2, #4, #5 and #8 are Westerns, but they're far from it.  Only True Grit is an old-time Western, and then mosty because John Wayne is in it.

Friday, January 21, 2011


You remember Morgan Spurlock. He's the filmmaker who rose to fame with the documentary Super Size Me. Its thesis: McDonald's food is not healthy. He really tore the lid off the rumor that high amounts of refined sugar and saturated fat are good for you.

His latest, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, is yet another brave expose--this time on product placement. He'll go into how moviemakers receive consideration from companies to tout their products, as well as looking at marketing and advertising of films.

I'm on record as feeling there's not enough product placement in entertainment, too often leaving us in a generic world that I don't recognize. But even if someone believes this is a form of selling out, is it really any sort of scandal? You make your movie, and people can choose to pay for it or not--it's still a free market, the government isn't requiring anyone to see it (which was a Mr. Show sketch, I believe). If product placement and related requirements are obnoxious enough, it'll hurt a film's gross, or a TV show's ratings.

Actually, we don't need Morgan Spurlock to tell us these things. 30 Rock had an episode last season that dealt with McDonald's and product placement at the same time.

PS.  Speaking of dubious tie-ins, I was walking by my local Fatburger when I noticed posters, fliers and even stand-up figures for Bob's Burgers, the new animated sitcom.  It seemed as if the joint had turned into a Bob's Burgers, in fact.

I've seen the first few episodes of the show, and I'm not sure if this is such a good thing.  It's been given a great slot between The Simpsons and Family Guy, but I don't think it's living up to it.  The show is about a generally annoying and vulgar family that runs a burger shop.  The shop itself is rundown, poorly managed and, as far as I can tell, quite unsanitary.  Is the publicity really worth it?

Cohen Levies Charge

Representative Steve Cohen has gotten in trouble for comparing Republican arguments on health care to Nazi propaganda on the floor of the House.  Part of his speech:

[The Republicans] say it's a government takeover of health care--a big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeate the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it-- and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again.  We heard on this floor: government takeover of health care.

When asked about this rhetoric, he first said there was no apology required, though he was sorry people were offended.  He noted this was only a small part of a seven-minute speech--seeing it in context is necessary.

The next day, he pulled back a little further, apologizing directly, but still pretty much standing his ground:

I regret that anyone in the Jewish community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments. My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which it has been delivered.

So Republicans aren't like Nazis, just their message and tactics.

I still can't get over how people can so causally compare others to Nazis.  Even if the Republicans had said something obviously wrong, there's simply no excuse for it.

I guess I gotta go back to my flow chart to help politicians with their rhetoric:

1. Should I compare [the issue at hand] to [something the Nazis did]?
2. No

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dave's Ideas

David Lynch turns 65 today. He may have some weird notions, but he makes beautiful films.


For a while, Harper's, one of America's most venerable magazines, has been in trouble (along with most other magazines).  Published by ceramics heir John MacArthur, it's been oozing red ink for years. Lately, MacArthur's been clashing with his staff.  Older editors have been leaving, like literary rats deserting a sinking ship.  And now, what's left of the staff has unionized, like, um, rats organizing on a sinking ship.

We'll see if Harper's can turn around.  As I noted last year, their avoidance of the internet didn't help. Compare to their old competitor, The Atlantic, which jumped in with both feet and is reaping the rewards.  (Note MacArthur says The Atlantic is lying when it claims to be profitable).

I read Harper's regularly in the 90s, the heart of the Lewis Lapham era.  It was a lively magazine, with ideas and selections you didn't see elsewhere.  (Meanwhile, The Atlantic was considerably duller.)  Somehow, Harper's lost its edge, and I'm not sure if MacArthur is the man to bring it back.

One argument I reject, though Megan McArdle at The Atlantic believes it, is...well, why not let her make it:

...I've stopped reading it. It's very expensive, and it seems to have lost some of its urgency (for me, at least) since Bush left office. [....] Most political magazines flourish when they're in opposition, languish when their guy wins. Maybe you could question the decision to be overtly political, which made them vulnerable to this cycle...

Does she have any stats to back this up--that you do better when in opposition?  Rush Limbaugh makes his living discussing politics in a strictly partisan manner, and he does well no matter who's in office.  (I remember, after his rise to fame during the Bush 41 years, many were predicting his downfall once a Democrat took the White House.) 

There are always issues to be fought over.  It may matter how excited readers are, but not whether you're "winning" or not.

In fact, Harper's has been in trouble for some time now, and was hurting during the Bush 43 years when, according to McArdle's theory, they should have been thriving.  In fact, I think it's when they got overly politicized, as she notes, that the trouble started.  They lost their light touch and their sense of humor during the Bush administration.  Maybe McArdle found it "urgent" then, but I think that was the beginning of the end.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Going Mobile

A lot of people talk about "social mobility," but I think we need to define terms.  The way they talk, they often seem to be measuring the odds that someone will rise from one of the lower quintiles to one of the higher.  That's no good.  It's a zero sum game.  If you move from the bottom quintile to the middle quintile, that means sme other guy guy dropped two quintiles or two guys dropped one.  By this definition, social mobility is kind of scary, since it means you can rise up from poverty, but you can fall down just as easily.  Social stabilty starts to sound good.

I think a better understanding of social mobility is the chance to start from humble beginnings and make something of yourself.  The rich may be likely to remain rich, but you can enjoy the lifestyle of those better off than you when you were born.  If we're not all doing better in general, what's the point?

Twenty Years Of AM Ears

Don Kirshner has died.  He was one of the top music producers of his era, but was more than just a behind-the-scenes guy, appearing on TV to introduce acts on his show, and, better, being parodied by Paul Shaffer on Saturday Night Live.  (According to Shaffer, Kirshner was lively in person, almost the opposite of the zombified man who appeared before the camera.)

Shaffer mocked how Kirshner seemed to care more about the people behind the act than the act itself.  But why not?  He knew where the real power lay.

After having worked with Bobby Darin in the late '50s, Kirshner--still in his 20s--became a top publisher and producer, helping to shape the Brill Building sound.  He became president of Screen Gems, the song publishing branch of Columbia Pictures, so it fell to him to provide songs for The Monkees, a new TV show starring a fake band.

He threw Boyce & Hart and Goffin & King and Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka at them, creating an act whose success was only matched by The Beatles.  Their first album, The Monkees, was at #1 for 13 weeks. Their second, More Of The Monkees, was at #1 for 18 weeks.  Aside from an occasional Mike Nesmith tune, the group did little more than sing on the tracks. While the band was mocked by hippies, their music was actually some of the best pop-rock of the era.

Unfortunately, this being the mid-60s, and integrity a big deal, the band was unhappy with this arrangement.  Kirshner met with the boys to present them with million-dollar checks, but Nesmith was so displeased he put his fist through the wall.  Kirshner was out and the Monkees had more say--and sales were never the same.

Kirshner's next big act was an even better deal for him--The Archies.  An animated band that didn't even exist except in the studio.  Their big hit, "Sugar, Sugar," was the top single of 1969.

In the 70s, he created Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, which ran for most of the decade and featured almost every major act of the day.  He worked in regular TV production, but nothing much came of that.  (Though he did create a failed sitcom with Norman Lear, featuring Pall Shaffer, about a bunch of old guys who are reincarnated into a hit band.)

By the 80s, Kirshner had earned more than enough to retire.  (He'd earned more than enough by the early 60s, actually.)  And that's what he did, apparently.  Perhaps he was tired, perhaps he didn't get MTV, who knows?  At least he seems to have voluntarily left the business, unlike so many who have to be dragged away, kicking and screaming.  I don't know what he did over the past few decades, but in the years he was active, he certainly was one of the top men in his field, and helped create a lot of good music.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

James And The Giant Reach

Fresh from complaining that America suffers from too much free speech, Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn has discovered a new problem--airport security for VIPs such as himself:

I really believe that that is the place where we feel the most ill at ease, is going through airports,” Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) [....]

“We’ve had some incidents where TSA authorities think that congresspeople should be treated like everybody else,” he said. “Well, the fact of the matter is, we are held to a higher standard in so many other areas, and I think we need to take a hard look at exactly how the TSA interact with members of Congress.”

Even if you think he has a point, this is unbelievably tone deaf.  How did this man get in such a position of responsibility?

Sometimes Now, Later

SNL has a running game show sketch (yep, another one) called Secret Word.  They pulled it out last weekend.  Part of the bit is it's an old show and the particular episode was originally broadcast in 1964.  Okay, great, we'll mock social conventions of the day.  I'm ready.

But right off the bat, they get it wrong.  First, the show is in color.  1966, sure, but not 1964. Then, in the latest, the host came on and made a joke about his wife going to a bra burning.  Bizarre.  No one even talked about that until 1968.  Next, Kristen Wiig's character, a stage actress, quoted a Rex Reed review.  Even assuming she'd quote Reed, this is also too early.

Imagine a sketch set in 1974 with a bunch of jokes about Jimmy Carter.  No one wants research to get in the way of good jokes, but when the sketch is about an era, should the writers figure "'64, '69, what's the difference?"

Midpoint Movies

Jesse Walker has put up his top ten list for the films of 1950.  It's five years since the war, and while Europe is trying to pick itself up, Hollywood is falling apart--the Supreme Court has broken up the studio system and TV is a clear threat.  They responded with a lot of film noir:

1. Rashomon
2. Harvey
3. Sunset Blvd.
4. Where the Sidewalk Ends
5. Gone to Earth
6. In a Lonely Place
7. Night and the City
8 House by the River
9. Stromboli
10. The Asphalt Jungle

I don't have too much trouble with this list.  If nothing else, I like these films.  Some are overrated, particularly Rashomon, but at least it's not one of those classics that's not a classic.  Some are from directors who have done considerably better work elsewhere (such as Gone To Earth and Sunset Boulevard, the latter being Wilder's most overrated film, along with Jesse's favorite from 1960, The Apartment.)

I'm a little surprised to see Harvey.  It's a nice comedy, but most of its modest charm comes from capturing what was already available on stage, not from adding anything.

Here are the honorable mentions:

11. Los Olvidados
12. Rabbit of Seville 
13. Winchester '73 
14. All About Eve 
15. D.O.A. 
16. Story of a Love Affair 
17. Eaten Horizons 
18. The Hypo-Chondri-Cat 
19. Cyrano de Bergerac 
20. Devil's Doorway 

Another collection of decent films, though Winchester '73 is the beginning of the overrated (I'm using that word way too much) Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart Westerns. It's also important in that it kicked off the power of agents and stars to get profit participation.

Los Olvidados would easily have made my top ten, but I guess number 11 is pretty close.

Jesse includes cartoons, and since Warner Brothers is operating at full power in 1950, he could have easily included more.

There are films I like from that year that Jesse didn't mention, of course.

For instance, just as 1960 features Jerry Lewis truly emerging as a solo act, so does 1950 feature the emerging superstars Martin and Lewis.  Their earliest films are pretty cheap, but they occasionally break out in the spirit that made the two the top act of the day.

Then there are musicals, which don't seem to be much on Jesse's mind.  For instance, 1950 saw two Fred Astaire musicals.  Weaker than usual, but even his worst is worth a look:  Let's Dance (very weak, indeed) and Three Little Words (a decent biopic that features very little dancing).  Then there's the second-greatest song and dance man, Gene Kelly, doing a great job with Judy Garland in Summer Stock. And when Judy couldn't finish Annie Get Your Gun that year, Betty Hutton stepped in with a rip-roaring performance.

Other films I liked:

Les Enfants Terribles, Fancy Pants, Born Yesterday (like Harvey, a decent adaptation of a long-running Broadway comedy), Cinderella (not as good as Disney's golden age, but still pretty special), Gerald McBoing-Boing (as long as you're including cartoons), Gun Crazy, The GunfighterPanic in the Streets, La RondeYou Man With A Horn, Variety Lights

Here are films that are at least of note for one reason or another:

The Baron of Arizona, Broken Arrow (as long as you're including Jimmy Stewart Westerns), Caged, Captain Carey, U.S.A., Cheaper by the Dozen, Crisis, Dark City, Destination Moon, Father of the Bride,  The File on Thelma Jordon, Francis, The Fuller Brush Girl, The Glass Menagerie, The Jackie Robinson Story, Kim, King Solomon's Mines, Kon-Tiki, The Last Days of Pompeii. The Magnificent Yankee, The Men (Brando's debut), Never a Dull Moment, The Next Voice You Hear..., No Way Out, Riding High, Rio Grande, Stage Fright, Tea for Two, Treasure Island, Triple Trouble, Union Station, Wagon Master, The Yellow Cab Man

Monday, January 17, 2011


The Bangles were a breath of fresh air in the 80s.  The face of the band (and perhaps the voice) belonged to Susanna Hoffs.  Today, let's celebrate her birthday.  (In case there's any doubt, she's the short brunette.)

The Road Not Taken

Can you believe Andy Kaufman would be turning 62 today if he were still alive?  I often wonder where his career would have gone next.  He sometimes seemed to have gone as far as he could get away with.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Preserved Seating

There's a movement for "bipartisan seating" during the State Of The Union address, rather than the traditional Dems on one side Repubs on the other.  It's a "symbolic gesture of unity" supported by many of the usual suspect (including, on the right, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte).

If you really want to do some good, get rid of the SOTU address.  For years now it's been an excuse for grandstanding. Indeed, in an age of instantaneous communication and widespread information, it's an outdated requirement in that Constitution everyone read a couple weeks ago that could easily be satisfied by a few pages texted over from the White House.

Instead, we get silly braying from the party in charge whenever the President announces his partisan motives.  What difference does it make where they sit--we know who's cheering and who's sitting on their hands.  Mixed seating will amount to an elaborate dumb show that changes nothing.

Let me suggest some alternatives:

The Dems and Repubs enter the chamber skipping and holding hands.

In addition to mixing parties, we also have boy girl boy girl seating.  (But no making out during the speech.)

When Obama enters, they all rise and sing, in unison (harmony optional) "Good evening to you/ Good evening to you/ Good evening Mr. President/ Good evening to you."

Ethel M

I've seen movies and heard recordings of Ethel Merman, whose birthday is today, and I have to admit much or her charm escapes me.  I have a theory.  She was a huge Broadway star, but never made it in movies.  Her voice was a clarion, which must have been thrilling in the theatre, especially in the days before microphones.  However, the more intimate medium of film negated her greatest strength.

But there's no denying that she made a difference, starring in shows like Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, Gyspy and so many others.  She probably introduced more standards from the Great American Songbook than any other woman.

Here's an anthem from Annie Get Your Gun, "There's No Business Like Show Business," that Ethel later reprised in a movie of the same name. (I've heard rumors they originally needed a song in one to change the sets, but haven't been able to confirm.)

Back in the 30s, they didn't record cast albums, so we're lucky to have a TV version of "Friendship," originally from Du Barry Was A Lady.

And I don't know who's putting out this material, but this is from a live recording of Gypsy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tea For Two Zero One Two

Harry Reid believes the Tea Party will disappear once the economy improves.  Some may think they've disappeared already, since we're not hearing much about them.  I suppose that makes sense as they wait to see how things turn out with the new Congress.  The question becomes what happens when (not if) the government doesn't do the things they want.  Will they still have enough power and spirit to change the course of the Republican primaries, and later the general election?  2012 will be for all the marbles, and the Tea Party could be a blessing or a curse for the right.

Here's an anonymous comment I got regarding a post last April.  The first part is clearly wrong, but some are still counting on the second part:

...the Tea Party is amusing and largely a marketing campaign made up by Dick Armey (another lie made up in Texas) which of course does not distinguish from most of the other successful (and unsuccessful) political campaigns of the last 50 years including Obama's legion of hope. That being said, the Tea Party rhetoric and nastiness is its biggest achilles heal. Sure angrying up the masses can make for good initial hits but in the long run it will exhaust and put off those are not ideologues (ie the overwhelming majority) Of course the Tea Party's greatest asset is the other side as they can turn off just as many (thats the long term effect of true believers).

Ca Va

When anyone asks me what's my favorite Dutch rock band, I say Gruppo Sportivo, who else?  I still remember the first time I heard them.  I thought "this is in English, but it sounds like they're singing phonetically." The leader of the band, Hans Vandenburg, explains:

We write in English because no one else outside Holland speaks Dutch and we want our songs to be heard and listened to everywhere.

Hey, it worked for ABBA.

Maybe my fave song is "Mission A Paris"--so they sing in French, too.  In fact, it's about a spy who pushes another spy off the Eiffel Tower and needs a dictionary to figure out what he said on his way down.  It's a love song.  Here's a portion:

Here they are about 30 years later.  The song is "Superman," but it opens with Zappa's "Take Your Clothes Of When You Dance."

A pretty good comment on YouTube:  Stranglers + B52's + Ian Dury = Gruppo Sportivo

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Night To Remember

This is great.  For some reason, contrarian critic Armond White was selected to host the New York Film Critics Circle Awards.  Was he chosen by lottery?  Was every other critic out with the flu?

Anyone who reads his reviews must have known he didn't approve of most of the awards.  He didn't like Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right--actually, it's safe to assume if something is a critical favorite, he's panned it.

What's surprising (or is it?) is that he let the winners know. When actors won for roles White didn't like, he would praise them for other performances.  He even demanded playwright/presenter Tony Kushner explain why The Social Network is any good.

Sure, it's rude, but to White, truth is more important than politeness.  The audience jeered, but I wish they let him present an award at the Oscars.

PS  Here's a better award ceremony.

Orwell That Ends Well

In America, some don't take the theart of censorship in the post-Arizona killings seriously, since we're protected by the First Amendmnent.  But we have to remember, if we didn't have it, how easily "liberal" governments could take away our freedom for our own good.

Recently, American saw a bowdlerized Huckleberry Finn for teaching purposes.  At least (supposedly) that's a private idea for an extra edition, not replacing the original (though it could in the future).  It's not a government demand.

However, up north, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has banned Dire Straits "Money For Nothing" (25 years after the fact) for the use of the word "faggot."  As always, the censors know best.  They can listen to whatever they like year-in year-out, but they need to protect the public from bad concepts.  Above all, let's not have a discussion about it.  (Censors often claim they're protecting the weak, though you'll notice they tend to represent dominant opinion.)

The song had been attacked when it originally came out.  (I remember a particularly idiotic statement in the Village Voice about how when Sting sings "I want my MTV," he's singing it to the tune of "Don't stand so close to me" which clearly is him warning off homosexuals.)  Fine, attack it.  But it shows, if nothing else, a missing sense of humor. Within context (and either censors don't believe in context, or think everyone is too stupid to get it), the song is about a dumb guy ranting in a socially unacceptable way.  That's the point.  That's why it works.  If you're worried it'll have a bad effect, explain to other why, don't stop it from being heard to begin with.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Don't Watch That, Watch This

Guess who turns 50 today?  Graham "Suggs" McPherson, front man for Madness.  They were a fun band. I saw them years ago in a club in New Jersey.  My ears are still ringing.

Film Year In Review--2010

It's been a little over a year since my last annual film wrap-up, so I guess it's that time again. I was conflicted by a lot of films this year.  Some had fine performances, for instance, but didn't add up to much.  Others were going along fine but then took a bad turn.

So there were a lot of passable films, but not a lot of great ones.  At least, of those I saw--I missed a lot of obscure foreign films, of course, and I avoided much Hollywood fare that just didn't seem worth it.  Last time around I had no trouble finding a top ten.  This year a few movies needed a touch of charity to make it.  You could have switched them with any on the list of ten bubbling under the top ten.

One more thing before we start.  I only discuss feature films released theatrically, or widely available theatrically, in 2010.  No TV, no shorts.

If you disagree with anything below, feel free to leave a comment.


Actor Of The Year:  Aaron Johnson, very good in two completely different roles--a hapless hero in Kick-Ass and John Lennon in Nowhere Boy.

Best Performance By A Major Star That No One Saw:  Michael Douglas in Solitary Man.

Biggest Year: Tie.  Jeff Bridges rarely stars in big hits, but this year, he was simultaneously in two films--True Grit and Tron 2--that made well over $100 million domestically.  Leonardo DiCaprio's last few outings didn't make much of a splash, but in 2010 he starred in two huge hits, Shutter Island and Inception.

Hell Freezes Over:  For a second there, I could have sworn Ben Affleck was a bigger star than Matt Damon.  To be continued?

Ups And Downs:  Last year, if you couldn't get Michael Cera, you got Jesse Eisenberg.  Now Michael Cera probably wishes he were offered what Eisenberg turns down.

Best Ending Inception.  Christopher Nolan tantalizes us, leaving us hanging, wondering where we are.

Worst EndingInception.  Christopher Nolan tantalizes us, leaving us hanging, wondering where we are.

They Never Learn: There have been a ton of anti-Iraq War film in the past several years, and every one has flopped.  Two more tirades, The Green Zone and Fair Game, both featuring major stars, were released in 2010. Two more flops.

ToneLet Me In was virtually a scene-by-scene remake of one of my favorites a few years ago, Sweden's Let The Right One In.  Somehow, the tone was just a little off, and it didn't work the same. (Some critics preferred it, to my surprise.) The Illusionist was an animated feature based on a script by Jacques Tati that he never made.  It was full of Tati-style whimsy, even "starring" him, but somehow seeing it animated made it more odd than endearing.  Death At A Funeral was transplanted from England to America. Actually, it didn't work either time.

Get This Man A Script:  Steve Carrell is a funny guy, but he needs better material than Date Night or Dinner For Schmucks.

EmCee:  I don't mean to beat up on Michael Cera.  He had a tough enough year, starring in two flops.  But let's face it, his lack of range made him a horrible choice for Youth In Revolt (where he had to play the "Michael Cera" character and a tougher, cooler guy--they were almost indistinguishable) and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (which might have worked with a more dynamic lead).

Hollywood Math: Johnny Depp alone (Alice In Wonderland) = hit. Angelina Jolie alone (Salt) = hit.  Johnny Depp + Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) = Flop

Director Update:  I usually love Mike Leigh, but I didn't quite get the point of Another Year (as fine as the acting was, especially Lesley Manville's); David O. Russell had a hit with The Fighter, but it didn't seem to have the personality of his best stuff; Christopher Nolan had a gigantic hit with Inception--I like ingeniously plotted stuff, but he's in danger of swallowing himself up in intricacy and losing the humanity; I was surprised that I enjoyed Somewhere, since I'm not usually a fan of Sofia Coppola, and usually don't go for mood over plot; I thought Darren Aronofsky had turned the corner with The Wrestler, but he's back to his old tricks with Black Swan (his first real hit), a headache-inducing subjective portrayal of madness; Noah Baumbach makes films about miserable people, which worked for me once but had me wondering, with Greenberg, why am I wasting my time with this jerk; Nicole Holofcener, with Please Give, makes something lovely, but not amazing; Todd Solondz' sequel to Happiness (using different actors) let's us compare it to his earlier effort, which is not a good idea; I could have sworn Woody Allen released a film this year, but I've already forgotten it.

Most quotable movieThe Social Network:
“ I'm 6' 5”, 220 pounds, and there are two of me”
”You have part of my attention—you have the minimum amount”
“You know what's cooler than a million dollars? A billion dollars”
“The Winklevi”
“You’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a geek. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that won’t be true: It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

Cutest Line:  Agnes in Despicable Me.

Best Immediate Classic Bad Line: Liam Neeson in Clash Of The Titans

("Wait a second. Did I just say RELEASE the Kraken? I meant whatever you do, DO NOT release the Kraken. That would be insane.  It took us a month to cage it last time it escaped.  Half those guys are still on disabililty.")

Best Musical Number: "Zoobie Doobie" from 3 Idiots:


Nerd Alert:  It seemed like every other film starred Michael Cera, Jay Baruchel, Jesse Eisenberg or Shia LeBoeuf.  Not your average, handsome, virile leading men.

Worst Trend: Everything is 3-D, which stands for the 3 Dollars more you pay for the same entertainment value.

D For Doc, F For Fake?: I'm Still Here, Catfish, and Exit Through The Gift Shop were all documentaries where you're not sure what's true.

80s Action Never Left: The Expendables, MacGruber, The A-Team, The Karate Kid, Clash Of The Titans, Tron

Graphic Novels Are Meant For MoviesKick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Red

Shooting At Politicians: SaltEdge of Darkness, Red

Pardon Me But Your Tongue Is In My VaginaGreenbergBlue Valentine, Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right,  Dogtooth

In Animation, The Bad Guy Is Actually The Good GuyHow To Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, Megamind, Tangled, even Toy Story 3

A Farewell To Arms127 Hours, True Grit

Gangsters Overseas: Animal Kingdom, Mesrine (parts 1 and 2), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

A Dream World Where Leonardo DiCaprio Tries To Deal With His Dead Wife: Inception, Shutter Island

It's All Greek To Me:  Clash Of The Titans, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Dogtooth

Drug Reps Making Passes Love And Other Drugs, Little Fockers

Good Concept, Bad Execution:  The Joneses, The Expendables, Behind The Burly Q, Hot Tub Time Machine

Buy The Title, Toss The Book:  Alice In Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels

People Stuck In A Hospital With Cops On Their Tail Will Know How To Escape:  The Next Three Days, Faster

Self-mutilation:  127 Hours, Black Swan, Jackass 3, Dogtooth


Good: Blue Valentine, The Illusionist, Another Year, Leap Year, 127 Hours, Nowhere Boy, Megamind, Red, The Town, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, Inception (though I have serious misgivings), Please Give, When You're Strange, For The Love Of Movies: The History Of American Film Criticism

Bad: Death At A Funeral, Legion, Hereafter, I Love You Phillip Morris, Love And Other Drugs, Made In Dagenham, Morning Glory, The Switch, Life During Wartime, The Trotsky, Knight And Day, Cyrus (may stop mumblecore in its tracks), Splice, MacGruber, Behind The Burly Q, Date Night, Greenberg, Hot Tub Time Machine, She's Out Of My League, Cop Out, Shutter Island, The Lovely Bones, Edge Of Darkness, The Book Of Eli

Ugly: Little Fockers, The Wolfman, Clash Of The Titans, The Expendables, Grown Ups

Bizarre: Black Swan

Half And HalfYouth In Revolt (not bad until Michael Cera has to pull out "Francois").

I Don't Care What The Critics Say, It Wasn't That BadHow Do You Know?, Gulliver's Travels, Due Date

Big DisappointmentsAlice In Wonderland (made a billion dollars but is no fun--takes some of the most enchanting characters in literature and makes them do things they have no business doing), The Sorcerer's Apprentice (sorry, no franchise), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (probably wouldn't have worked even if they did it right), Micmacs, Iron Man 2

Okay: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Rare Exports, Animal Kingdom, The Fighter, The Next Three Days, Faster, Unstoppable, Let Me In, Secretariat, Takers, Mesrine (parts 1 and 2), The Other Guys, Salt, The Infidel, Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work, Smash His Camera, Get Him To The Greek, The Joneses, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Secret Of Kells, The Runaways, Daybreakers

Unfinished:  Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1


Despicable Me


How To Train Your Dragon

Jackass 3

The Kids Are All Right

Rabbit Hole

Solitary Man


Toy Story 3

Winter's Bone


3 Idiots

I can see why this is the biggest Bollywood hit ever.  In almost three hours, it throws everything at you but the kitchen sink realism: comedy, melodrama, romance, songs, suspense, chases, etc.  Usually when I hear someone say a film is a joyous celebration of life, that's a warning, but darn it, that's just what this film is.

City Island

A comedy about a family with secrets. You also get to learn about City Island, an actual place in the Bronx.  Movies are about going places you've never been before, after all (which is why Jackass 3 almost made my top ten).

Easy A

I may be grading this one a bit high, but a fun teen comedy that's smarter than it needs to be deserves some attention.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

One of the most enthralling documentaries I've seen in years.  A story about street art that features a plot full of twists and turns, made all the more amazing in that it's true.  Or is it?  This is a film by Banksy, after all, noted put-on artist.  Everything I can personally check on (much of the film takes place in Los Angeles) is true, but who knows?

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski in top form.  He does an amazing job showing how it feels for a powerful man to be trapped. (I wonder how he knew that?)  It does get a little silly with all the conspiracy-mongering, but a great mood of menace throughout.  Especially good work from Pierce Brosnan.


I thought this film was great.  A smart and exciting action film.  I was disappointed when it didn't turn into a big hit, but then I realized most filmgoers just don't go for an 11-year-old girl who slices people up and swears like a sailor.

The King's Speech

I couldn't care less about the personal problems of British royalty, but this film made me care.  All three leads were superb.  Someone's got to keep up the tradition of Merchant-Ivory, especially if they do it better.

The Social Network

An intelligent film with solid characters and well-done dialogue.  The kind you wonder why Hollywood can't put out on a regular basis.  This is a writer's film, so Aaron Sorkin deserves the lion's share of credit, but fine casting, acting and directing sure helped.  The irony is I don't think Sorkin really understands the first thing about Mark Zuckerberg.


Disney doing what it does best--a princess with deep longing. The horrible trailer didn't prepare for how wonderful this is--great singing, good gags, and surprising beauty. The critics are going wild over Toy Story 3, (and America seems to prefer Despicable Me and How To Train Your Dragon). Nothing wrong with them, but this is the classic.

True Grit

The first honest-to-goodness hit from the Coen Brothers.  Not their best and the pointless epilogue almost ruins it, but it looks good and has decent tension, dialogue and performances.

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